Eric Hawthorn is a native of Philadelphia, where he works as a writer and researcher for a real estate company. His stories have appeared in Monkeybicycle, Thrice Fiction, Metazen, and other journals.
Pretend you’re on a real bike. Rearrange the towel on your handlebars and wonder if you raised the seat high enough. All your classmates are girls, are women: lean, young, Lycra-sealed women with swishing ponytails and moisture-wick tops. (Don’t rank your classmates from one to ten this time.) Count the spinning flywheels glinting beneath each rider and the wheel-shaped mirrors on the walls. Heed the instructor yelling into her headset microphone: There are three positions! Seated, standing, and leaning over the handlebars! Dig your heels and lift your knees! (Your instructor has nice cans. She’s about a seven, maybe an eight.) Study the floor. Hope you put on enough deodorant. The gadget on your handlebars tracks cadence and calories: start with light resistance, cadence around 85 RPMs to loosen up. Wipe the first trickle from your forehead. Now increase the flywheel’s resistance and raise your cadence to—95? The music is at full blast but it sounded like the instructor said 95. Realize the girl riding in front of you—sports bra, silver leggings—might in fact be wearing thong underwear. This changes everything. Confirm your initial findings: study the ridges cresting each cheek and the silhouetted triangle where they meet, the fabric squeezed into perfection. Yes. Silver Leggings is wearing a thong. Check again to be sure. Study the floor. Up! Up! Let your quads and glutes hold you up! (If they don’t start to burn, you’re doing it wrong.) Glutes-and-quads. Glutes-and-quads. Glutes-and-thong. Thong-and-thong. Are any of the other riders—? Their leggings must be a material sheer enough for you to identify their underwear. Four nos, two maybes. Lights too dim to see the rest. Implore the wall-mounted fan to oscillate your way. Lean! We’re climbing! Resistance at 16, belly sucked in, butt above the saddle! Your classmates bend in unison, a roomful of rounded invitations. What did the instructor just yell? So hard—so hard to hear in this rumbling sweatbox. Crushing bass line and lyrics about booty-shaking. A hungry pain tiptoes down your leg, finds the juiciest section of your calf and opens wide— Jumps! Now we’re doing jumps! Sit! Stand! Sit! Stand! Watch your cadence! 105 RPMs, wounded calf be damned! Add a lean and a clap! Lean-sit-clap. Lean-sit-clap. Do-not-stop. Keep-it-up. Each pedal stroke spools your hamstrings tighter and tighter and further cramps your calves. (You’ve swallowed the gum you forgot you were chewing.) Stare at Silver Leggings and the outline of her thong. What does a leer feel like? Does it have a tactile quality? A temperature? Do your crawling eyes make her itch or prickle or burn? Blink away the salt. From behind, Silver Leggings is a nine, maybe even a ten. Think of your wife. Correct your posture in one of the mirrors. Sit and sprint! Cadence to 100, 110, 120— Wipe the hair off your forehead. Hydrate in moderation: don’t implode your water bottle like last time. 125 and you’re rocking a bit, the bike shaking on its supports. Hold tighter to the handlebars as the music throbs on, another song about booty-shaking. Silver Leggings glistens before you. Think of mist-covered fruit. Study the floor. Your wife is a five or six. Loathe her faded underwear and the way she throws out the tube of toothpaste before it’s all the way finished. Wring out the bottom of your T-shirt. (Tell your breakfast to keep down: close your eyes and imagine calm flat spaces and stillness and not the sloshing of your insides.) Cadence! 130 RPMs! 135! Let the calories steam out your pores! 20 miles! 25! 30! Work! Work, you pussy! You fucking sad little man on your wobbling wheel contraption! When your nose starts to bleed, grab your towel. Stop tracking calories and count ounces and pounds! (A rising in your throat: an acidic precursor. Hold-it-down, hold-it-down, clench-it-down—) Catch what comes out with your hand. Rush the towel to your mouth and swallow back what you can. Shoulder away the sliminess and hope no one noticed. The other riders are outpacing you. Cadence! Pedal! Feel your belly lessen and shorts loosen. Your shirt hangs over gasping ribs as your knees wear down to bone and gristle. You’re going too fast for breath. Pedal! Clench your eyes as your arms get ropy-tough and your vertebrae poke one at a time from your back. One-two, one-two! Pedal as the studio empties and fills, music on, music off, your wife at home, night and day and night again you pedal and pedal until you’re forgiven.